Families mourn 'senseless' violence after homeless relatives murdered in Baton Rouge
What hurts the most, said Kellee Fernandez, sister to one of the victims, is knowing how much her brother had to offer to others
By Jacqueline Derobertis
BATON ROUGE — A man and woman who were discovered shot to death this month under the North Boulevard overpass may have been homeless, but they weren't without families who loved and cared about them.
Now, their families want people to know that their lives had value as they try to process what happened on Friday, Dec. 13.
A resident walking along South 16th Street discovered the bodies of 53-year-old Christina Fowler and 40-year-old Gregory Corcoran Jr. around 1 p.m., resting beside an empty shopping cart near the roadway. The nature of Fowler and Corcoran's relationship is not known. They were still wrapped in their blankets, apparently shot as they were laying down.
Baton Rouge police announced Thursday the arrest of Jeremy Anderson, 29, who lives less than two blocks from where the bodies were found. He's also being charged in the murder of another homeless man, 50-year-old Tony Williams, who was found shot to death on the front porch of an abandoned house two weeks later.
Police said they weren't sure whether Anderson knew the victims and declined to speculate on a motive.
The victims had families that were concerned about them and reached out trying to help where they could. Indeed, Fowler's ex-husband, Roy Glenn McGraw Jr. had purchased a cell phone for her the day before her death and was alarmed when he received a text message from her around 1 a.m. that Friday saying she was in downtown Baton Rouge near the homeless shelters — a part of the city McGraw said he knew was dangerous.
"I was just worried about her being out there," McGraw said. "I just had a terrible, sinking feeling about that spot exposed, right out there in the open."
He offered to rent her a room at a motel in Denham Springs for the night, just to get her off the street. She declined, but he wasn't sure why.
Hours later — no one knows exactly when — she was killed.
McGraw talked about how Fowler's strong spirit and energy guided him through many difficult times over a period of 16 years.
My mother was a very strong-willed woman," said her daughter, Kara Bellow. "She loved very, very deeply. She felt everything very deeply."
Fowler was born in Dallas, Texas, but spent much of her life living between Louisiana and her hometown. Bellow said Fowler struggled with a drug addiction for years, but she found an anchor in McGraw, who her family says was the love of her life.
The family fondly calls him by his middle name, "Glenn."
"My mother was a restless soul and she lived many places," Bellow said. "But it didn't matter what happened — she would always find her way back to Glenn."
Though their marriage ultimately ended in divorce, McGraw said, he never stopped caring about Fowler. He did his best to support her after their separation, often renting hotel or motel rooms for her when she was in need of a place to stay.
"With Glenn, life always brought them back together," Bellow said. "I don't think there was a more perfect pair for each other, honestly."
Despite the many challenges throughout her own life, McGraw said, Fowler cared deeply about"people who were struggling and didn't have anything.
She always had a big heart for people that were homeless," he said. "She'd see somebody walking on the side of the road, she'd want to give them money or pick them up and take them where they need to go."
While McGraw is fighting to overcome his grief, he finds comfort in the belief Fowler was not afraid in death.
"I don't know who did that to her," he said. "But even if she had been awake, and they would have had a gun to her face, she wouldn't have been scared, because she wasn't afraid of anything. She was fearless."
Corcoran, the man living on the streets who was found dead alongside Fowler, was a southern California native from the city of Whittier. Kellee Fernandez, Corcoran's sister, posted about his death on Facebook the day after the slaying.
"Yesterday, my brother ... was killed in a senseless act of violence," Fernandez wrote. "He had fallen on hard times and was between places to stay."
Fernandez said that her brother had lived in McKinney, Texas, near Dallas, for a few years, but lost his job. She believed he was stranded in Louisiana and was trying to get money together to travel to Florida, where he had an employment opportunity lined up and hopes for a better future.
Dad told him a few days before he died, 'Son, it's time to come home,'" she said. "But my brother said, 'No, I'm going to go to Florida and get on my feet, make a fresh start and get my life back together.'"
His sister described Corcoran as fun and generous — the type of person who "would give you the last of what he had."
Fernandez said her brother was drawn to the service industry as an adult because he loved people and enjoyed helping them. For a time, he ran a courier business and helped install electronics for people.
"He just kind of marched to the beat of his own drum," she said. "He'd been in dire straits a time or two. He always landed on his feet. And we just expected that to happen."
In her Facebook post, Fernandez called on people to pray for Corcoran's four children, all under the age of 18, "and for his dad and grandmother and me and the rest of his family as we process this tragic event."
She asked those reading her post who are not the praying type to "please remember the homeless in his honor."
Homelessness remains a persistent problem in the capital region, as it is in many communities around the country.
According to data gathered by the Louisiana Balance of State Continuum of Care, 353 people were counted as homeless in "the Baton Rouge region" in January 2019. The numbers include 82 people struggling with substance abuse, 76 with mental health issues and 57 experiencing physical ailments or disabilities.
The majority of those facing homelessness in the area are male, while veterans make up the largest subpopulation measured by LABOSCOC.
About three blocks from where Fowler and Corocoran's bodies were found, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul operates two separate shelter facilities for the homeless on its campus, one for men and the other for women and mothers and their children.
Michael Acaldo, chief executive officer of the nonprofit, said in his 30 years of experience working in the area of homelessness services, the most notable change has been the severity of the mental illness and addiction suffered by the people who use their facilities."
"It's just increased so dramatically," Acaldo said. "It's something that's absolutely crushing to see, and certainly for us it's something we work very diligently to provide the health and the hope they need to get their lives back on track."
On an average night where there isn't the threat of a freeze or inclement weather, Acaldo said, the shelter offers 133 beds between men, women and children. Shelter personnel add an extra 37 beds when there is a cold snap or a hurricane in an effort to get people off the streets when the conditions outside are uninhabitable.
A new building will be completed by February 2020 that will provide 36 extra beds to increase their emergency capacity, Acaldo said, bringing their total availability to about 200 beds. He said it's rare that they can't provide a bed for someone who needs it, and when they can't, they work with other shelters in the area to coordinate a safe place for a homeless person to stay the night.
But sometimes, he said, people choose not to stay at the shelter for a variety of reasons.
Though the barriers to receive services at St. Vincent de Paul are comparatively low next to what Acaldo describes as "traditional shelters" with more restrictions, guests are not allowed to drink alcohol on the premises or use drugs — a policy that excludes some people from claiming a bed.
Some shun the shelter services St. Vincent de Paul offers because they prefer to remain living outside in an unrestricted environment, Acaldo said.
Once you start to accept living outside as a lifestyle, it becomes difficult to break that habit," he said. "For someone living outside, living inside may be just as difficult if you have to worry about having rent paid, or being anxious about an electric bill, or anxious about going back and forth to work. It's very, very challenging."
In the week following the murder, Fernandez said, little golden memories of her brother keep floating to the surface, reminding her of the small things that made him special to her.
She remembers him coming to the house to cheer her up when she was pregnant with her twins and not feeling well, the amazing meatloaf and home fries he cooked that evening and sitting down on the sofa to chat after helping her hang Christmas lights.
What hurts the most, she said, is knowing how much her brother had to offer to others; those people will never get the opportunity to experience his small kindnesses.
"There's a void now where he was," she said. "The good that he could do in the world has been taken away."
(c)2019 The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La.
McClatchy-Tribune News Service